Things are what they are, and Azzah does what she must to survive.
But surviving isn’t easy anymore. And living is even harder. Azzah must work for the humans—the AlwaysMortals—in order to do either. Sure, they provide her with food and shelter, doctors and something called a pension, but Azzah is no longer free to come and go as she pleases, roam all the worlds as she once did. Instead, she is chained by what the AlwaysMortals call a job.
Azzah’s job is helping the humans drill deep into the ocean floor for oil. Humans are more obsessed with the black muck than dwarves are with gems and jewels. They seem to always be fighting each other to get more. Well, what does Azzah care? She is well paid—or so she is told—and her job has benefits. Something the humans call dental. Azzah is not sure what dental is, but the gleam of satisfaction humans get in their eyes when they talk about it leads her to believe that dental is a thing of great value.
“There she blows,” cries out the AlwaysMortal known as George as she breaks the ocean’s surface. The humans nearby laugh at his joke. Even though George has explained it many times, Azzah does not know why the humans find this funny. The expression, George once told her, was used by humans who hunted whales. When they spotted a whale surfacing for air, a geyser of water blowing out of its spout, they would yell out, “There she blows!” What followed was a hunt in which these AlwaysMortals would spear the whale, forcing it to remain surfaced, and eventually kill it. How referencing the death of a whale is considered humor, Azzah does not know.
“Because,” George has explained, “you’re not a whale.”
No, she isn’t. She is a myarid. A sea-jinni. Of course, she would be honored to be a whale. Azzah has never met a whale she did not like. Amongst all of creation, whales are well known for their kindness and wisdom. And as for humor? It is well documented in all the once-upon-a-time heavens and hells that whales are amongst the funniest creatures in existence. Their knack for unusual observations told with perfect timing makes them wonderful entertainers. Not like these AlwaysMortals. Not like George.
Still, despite his insensitive joke, Azzah likes George. He speaks to her as an equal, unlike so many humans who treat her like a trained seal. One day Azzah will again explain to George why his joke is not funny, but not today. Today she is working.
Azzah doesn’t like working for humans, but what else can she do? Survival isn’t easy in this new GoneGod world. When Azzah was immortal, she spent her days doing as she pleased, swimming the vast oceans of both the mortal plane and her home world, the emerald cities of Qa, without hunger or fatigue, without fear of being hurt and without fear of death. But now … now is different. Now she gets hungry. She gets tired. And when she is hurt—which has only happened once when she broke her arm while trying to fix one of the humans’ ridiculous underwater drills—she cannot pray to her gods to be healed instantaneously. Now, she needs a “doctor.” And as for death? Sadly, that is a very real threat these days.
For her, the GrandExodus happened while she was already on Earth, roaming the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean on one of her frequent trips. It started with the voice of Hermes, the messenger of her god, in her head. “Thank you for believing in us,” he said, “but it is not enough. We’re leaving. Good luck.” At first she didn’t know what to think. Rarely did the gods speak directly to myarids, and in her thousands of years, Poseidon—the myarids’ god—had only spoken to her twice. Once was when they were at war with the ifrit. The second time was when he opened the waterways between this world and Irem Emad.
After Hermes delivered his message, she could no longer feel her home.
It was the mortals’ season of autumn, which meant her sisters would have been attending the Celestial Solace. She only needed to think of them and be connected instantly. She tried to summon a portal, open up the pathway back to Qa, but it was simply not there. Fine, she thought. If I cannot go to them, then I shall summon them to me. But as soon as she began to manipulate the currents she needed for her summoning spell, she felt a deep sensation of decay. She was aging. That much was sure. And as if by instinct born not at the beginning of life but at that very moment, she knew that every second she spent on magic was a minute less of her life.
She knew this as she knew she now needed food to eat, water to drink and air to breathe.
Azzah was dying. Not immediately, but slowly, from a terrible disease called aging. And the use of magic hastened that process until one day she would use all the time she had and be no more. Azzah wasn’t afraid to die, but she was no fool, either. She would save her time and use it only when absolutely necessary.
Scared to use magic and even more scared of no longer being connected, Azzah emerged from the depths and saw the destruction that the gods’ departure had created. It would not be long until she learned what everyone else knew. The gods had left, closing all the heavens and hells when they did, and with that closing they had given their once loyal servants a choice: Stay and perish, or go to the only plane of existence left. Earth.
And what of her family? She learned from the kelpies that they had not left. They were myarids, and they had done what any member of her tribe would do—they had stayed behind to fight for their home. Brandishing weapons of war—tridents, nets, spears and harpoons—they’d fought the enclosing darkness. But how does one fight the dying of the light and expect to survive? It is like trying to tame a tornado with a paper fan.
Azzah, who was never given the choice of whether to stay and die, or run and survive, now lives on the mortal plane. Every day spent is one day closer to the end. Death by time. She would rather have died fighting an impossible battle than live like this.
Azzah hands the foreman her sensor, and he plugs it into something called a laptop. Readings pop up on the screen. “Strong currents down there?” he asks.
“Nothing I cannot handle,” Azzah says.
“I suppose not, you being a mermaid and all,” he says with a wink.
“I’m not a mermaid, I’m a—”
“Myarid. I know, I know. Sheesh, Azzah, lighten up. I was just joking,” George says as he continues to evaluate the readings. Again, she doesn’t get the joke. A part of her understands why the AlwaysMortals think of her as a mermaid. Both myarids and mermaids have dorsal lower bodies and humanoid upper bodies. But unlike a mermaid, Azzah can spend her entire life underwater, never needing a breath of air. Of course, she can also spend her entire life above water as well. She would like to see a mermaid do that. Mermaids are slow and weak, choosing to run from a great white shark rather than fight. Great whites swim from her—she doubts there is a creature beneath the ocean’s surface as strong as herself.
Except, that is, another myarid—not that there are many of them left.
Azzah shakes her head—to think a myarid is the same as a mermaid is to think a lion is the same as a kitten.
“Ahhh, Azzah,” George says in a distracted voice, looking at the sky above her. “Could you submerge a bit? You’re … you’re . . . too high.”
Azzah looks over to see several of the male variety staring at her. None of them make eye contact, all of them gazing below. She looks down and sees that while distracted in thought, she had pushed herself up, her torso now above water, her wet breasts glistening in the late-afternoon sun. That is another thing she will never understand—humans and their love of breasts.
Several of the men groan as she lowers her body so only her head is above water.
“Thanks,” George says with a kind smile. He returns to the readings. His brow furrows and concern creeps onto his face. “Hey, what’s this?” he asks, tilting the screen so Azzah can see it. Amongst the blips and beeps, curved lines and numbers, there is an anomaly. One of the drill lines is under immense pressure, but unlike the typical problems of strong currents or large creatures bumping against it, the sensors indicate that the drill is being pulled into the earth. That should not happen.
“I will investigate,” Azzah says.
George hands her a commlink. It is a small earbud that was designed to withstand massive amounts of pressure. It had to—Azzah refused to wear a pressurized suit when diving to the ocean floor. “Be careful.”
Azzah scowls. “Why do you always say that to me? There is nothing below that can hurt me.”
“Hey, do you know what would happen to me if I went that deep without a whole lot of stuff to protect me? If the cold wouldn’t kill me first, then the pressure would crush me like a tin can. And if, by a miracle, that didn’t get me, I’d get eaten by a shark or a giant squid or something.”
“I have told you many times, Human George, and I will tell you again. Giant squids do not like the taste of human flesh.”
“Still,” George says, his eyes softening as he looks at Azzah, “be careful.”
Azzah glares in frustration before submerging.
“Hey,” Azzah’s commlink buzzes to life with George’s voice, “how’s it going down there?”
“I am here.”
“At the bottom.”
“What? How?” George fumbles. “You’ve been gone for less than … four minutes. Are you telling me you swam seven thousand feet in less than four minutes?”
“Yes,” Azzah says flatly.
“No, it isn’t,” Azzah says. “I’ve seen myarids who could traverse the strongest—”
“Just let me be amazed.”
“Very well, Human George, be amazed.”
There is a pause and then the commlink buzzes, “Thank you. OK, what do you see down there?”
The drill is three meters in circumference, and Azzah circles it several times, examining the floor and entry point, looking for whatever could be pulling at it. Everything seems perfectly normal. She goes to the tethers that hold the drill in place. Again, normal.
She clicks on her commlink. “I do not see anything unusual.”
“OK, probably just a faulty sensor,” George says. Then, after a long pause, the commlink crackles, “Say—while you’re down there, I don’t suppose you could do me a favor? I, ahhh, got this date and it would be really cool if I could give her a seashell from so deep.”
“Yeah—or a rock … anything that looks, you know, cool.”
“Something cool?” Azzah asks. “Below, everything is cool, if not cold. But once it surfaces, it will most likely become surface temperature and—”
“Something pretty. I meant something pretty.”
“Pretty? I think I understand. It is part of your courting ritual … like when one of my kind presents the desired myarid a slain great white as a way of expressing the desire to mate. I can help you with that.”
“Oh gosh, please don’t kill a shark. I was thinking a lot smaller.”
“Like the aforementioned seashell?”
“Yeah, like that.”
“And that impresses the females of your species.”
“I sure hope so.”
“Your females do not expect very much. Very well, Human George. I shall bring you a seashell.”
Azzah clicks off the commlink and searches the seabed for a desirable shell. At this depth, simple things like shells are not commonplace, but Azzah assumes she could capture a spider crab and strip it of its shell. That should please the human George.
Azzah hunts. She sees a large rock just beyond the drill’s tethers. Underneath the rock will surely be her intended prey. She grabs at it, seeking to turn it over. The rock is unusually heavy. Perhaps it is a piece of something much bigger. But the scans of this area show that there should be no large rock bed beneath. It doesn’t make sense that she can’t lift this rock. She tries again, this time summoning all her strength. The rock moves, but not from her efforts. It is moving under its own power.
She realizes that it is not a rock at all, but something else entirely, shooting straight up from the ocean bed. It is … it is … by the GoneGods, Azzah does not believe what she is seeing. Surely they would have taken her with them, she thinks.
“George,” Azzah says on the commlink, but before she can say more she is distracted by a giant hand that emerges from the ocean floor.
“Azzah, you OK? You sound worried. You never sound worried.”
George’s voice brings her back. “George,” she says, her voice low, “listen to me very carefully. Everyone needs to evacuate the rig.”
“Now, George. Now.” She looks at the moving rock and thinks of her family, how they fought the darkness for their home. How they fought for each other.
How they died with honor standing up, against insurmountable odds, for the ones they loved.
“What’s going on down—”
“George,” Azzah interrupts. “You are the one AlwaysMortal who always treated me with kindness and respect. You are my friend and the closest person I have to family in the GoneGod world. For that I will fight for you. Give you time. Now, please … don’t make my sacrifice be in vain. Take the helicopter, save as many as you can. Run. Run and live.”
George starts to protest, but before he can say anything, Azzah cuts the commlink and looks at the hand.
How does one fight the “dying of the light” and hope to survive? The answer is that one doesn’t. But sometimes you fight even when there is no hope, because … well … because some things are worth dying for. And there is no greater death than dying for your home. For your friends. For your family. Azzah knows this, just as her tribe once did.
She burns time. A lot of it. It does not matter. This will all be over in a few minutes. She can only hope that those minutes are enough time for George to find safety. Azzah burns time and summons her trident. She raises it above her head and cries out in rage.
How could they have been so careless and left her behind? It is the last question that crosses her mind as she attacks the creature emerging from the ocean floor.
A Nest of Sexy Vipers
Twelve Hours Earlier—
“Hold on, let me ask,” I said, looking over at my date. I held up two fingers, and she nodded. “OK, make that two of the same.”
“Two scoops of bananarama ice cream in a waffle cone—sprinkles and marshmallows,” the hobgoblin screamed to the back.
“No, no, no,” I said. “Two single scoops.”
The hobgoblin nodded with an expression of complete understanding. “Two single scoops of bananarama ice cream in a single cone.”
“No … two single scoops, one per cone,” I said, summoning every ounce of my not-so-infinite patience. Remember, Jean-Luc, I told myself, they’re new to all of this. After all, how many ice cream parlors were there in the UnSeelie Court anyway? I held up two fingers in hopes that the gesture would help clarify my point.
It didn’t. The hobgoblin looked at me as if I was the one confused and said, “That’s what I said. Two single scoops in a cone,” and before I could protest, he handed me a waffle cone with two scoops.
“Fine,” I said, taking the cone and handing it to my date. “Can I have another of the same?”
“Two scoops of bananarama ice cream—sprinkles and marshmallows? Did you want that in one or two cones?” the hobgoblin said with a grin that exposed three rows of serrated teeth.
Cheeky little bastard.
We left the ice cream parlor and went for a walk on the Promenade. I looked over at Medusa—as in Queen of the Gorgons, snakes-for-dreadlocks Medusa—and thought, I shouldn’t be on a date. Not today. And if I was honest with myself … not ever.
The reason I shouldn’t be here today was because tonight was the gala. It was some big dinner being hosted by some big kahuna Other called The BisMark. Not that I ever heard of him. But when I told the drunk fallen angel who lives in my hotel that The BisMark wanted to use my hotel, the angel furled his wings in tight and said in a voice that was equal parts admiration and fear, “What? The gods didn’t take him with them?” So it was that kind of big kahuna. Not that I really cared—as long as the check didn’t bounce, I was happy.
Given that The BisMark was throwing his event at the Millennium Hotel—my hotel—I should have been busy, but The BisMark didn’t trust my poorly trained staff, opting to bring in his own. Seems this BisMark was particular and didn’t want me and my ilk mucking things up. Hell, he paid me extra to stay out of his way. We weren’t permitted in the kitchen, we couldn’t help with the decorating … we weren’t even allowed to clean the guest rooms, each one being turned down by his army of gargoyle servants.
Who was I to complain? I had a full hotel at full rates and no work. Still, I was going crazy not being allowed to do anything. Getting out would be good for me, and Medusa knew it, too.
She walked in the foyer of the Millennium Hotel wearing a long sun dress with roses on it, looked at the gargoyles who were preparing everything and said, “Let’s go.” To my credit, I did protest, but she folded her arms over her chest and gave me an “I won’t take no for an answer” look, and I knew I was stuck.
The reason why I should have never been on a date with her, ever, was I still missed my wife. The fact that Bella had been dead and gone for seven years didn’t change that much. I knew I should move on, but I just wasn’t ready. Maybe I would be one day, maybe not. The point was—I wasn’t ready today. It wasn’t fair to Medusa. But the flesh is weak and that, coupled with the undeniable fact that I liked Medusa and wanted to get to know her in the biblical sense, spelled disaster.
And so there I was, strolling with Medusa on Paradise Lot’s Promenade, eating ice cream … having a good time.
To the casual observer, Paradise Lot’s Promenade still had all the features of a holiday beachfront—an ice cream parlor, an arcade and bowling alley, a few seaside cafés and restaurants, and an old Ferris wheel that should have been decommissioned a decade ago. A straight line of beach with a strip of road that separated the sand from the buildings, there was nothing particularly unique about the Promenade except that it belonged to Paradise Lot. That meant that although it was a fully-developed vacation spot, it missed the only thing that made promenades promenades: vacationers. Once-upon-a-time humans had come from all over the world to visit Paradise Lot’s oceanfront, but nowadays you hardly ever saw a bipedal AlwaysMortal here. Paradise Lot was where the Others lived. Not all of them, of course, but this was probably the only city on Earth that had an Other-majority population, and even after fourteen years of cohabiting on this tiny blue planet, my species still avoided Others-only neighborhoods.
That was not to say that Medusa and I were alone. The beach was filled with sunbathing lizard people, kappa and tláloc, who had permanently set up camp here.
Medusa took my arm and pulled me in close so I could smell her vanilla conditioner. It was strange to smell it, given she had no hair, and I suspected that it was more like vanilla-scented leather relaxant for her snakes. She was a petite girl, standing about five foot nothing, which meant that I was almost a head taller than her. I felt tall. I rarely felt tall, especially not when my best friend was an eight-foot fallen angel.
We walked on the sun-baked beach in relative silence as we both licked away at our ice cream cones in a losing battle to eat it before the sun did. Medusa had an unfair advantage as her snakes partook in the occasional lick on their mistress’s behalf.
We reached the water and Medusa touched the sleeve of my black collarless jacket. “Why do you always wear this thing?” she asked.
I looked up at the cloudless sky with its blistering hot sun and said, “I guess I misinterpreted the day.”
She giggled. “No, silly. Why do you always wear this jacket?”
I didn’t tell her that it was my hotelier uniform that I wore every day. Nor did I mention that I really didn’t have much in the way of a wardrobe. And I certainly didn’t tell her the truth: that I was on this date out of a sense of duty, and that this jacket was my uniform. Wearing it made things a little less blurry. For me, at least. Instead I shrugged and said, “Habit.” I looked up at the relentlessly bright sun and sighed. “I guess some habits are bad for you.” I took it off and slung it over my forearm.
“Aren’t you hot?” I asked. It was a stupid question, given that she was wearing a light sundress and little else. And as if to answer my question, she looked up at the sky. Immediately one of her snakes moved so its shadow would cover Medusa’s eyes. Medusa did what she always did: she smiled.
Ahh … Medusa. She wasn’t what you’d expect if you read the legends about her. Sure, she had a head full of snakes, but she wasn’t a scary, hideous monster. She was one of the friendliest Others to come to this planet since the gods left. And she was far from hideous. Quite the opposite—she was beautiful: rosy cheeks, charming dimples, cute freckles on her cheeks that accentuated her infectious smile. And her body—well, ahhh—she looked like she’d been sculpted. Sensual curves in all the right places, a bosom that sat firm in her low-cut dress … Medusa was hot. My eyes must have lingered a little too long because one viper on her head hissed at me with ice-cream-colored lips.
“Marty, be nice,” she said, petting the snake. “Actually, the tongue-flicking cools me down.”
“Really?” I asked.
“No,” she laughed, pulling out lip gloss from a chic Hello Kitty purse. “But you deserved that for staring. Want some?”
“Ahh, sorry,” I said, taking the gloss as I willed myself not to blush.
We ate our ice creams in silence, looking out at the water. I don’t know what Medusa was thinking about, but from the way her snakes eyed me—all thirty of them—I knew she wasn’t contemplating the beauty of the ocean. Medusa slowly and not-so-subtly edged her way closer to me millimeter by millimeter. She started to yawn, then stopped mid-inhale. Crap, she was going for the whole “I’m tired,” throw-your-arm-up-and-on-your-date’s-shoulders maneuver. An oldie but a classic and the same move I’d used the first time I kissed Bella. Of course, we were fourteen at the time, and it was more of an awkward pressing of the lips than an actual kiss, but hey—it counts! For a fourteen-year-old, I’d been suave.
Medusa wasn’t a teenager—she was older than agriculture. But in another, very real sense, she was fourteen. It had been fourteen years since she got kicked out of her home, and fourteen years since she was forced to live on Earth and play by human rules. In the time I’ve known her, she’s been the bubble-gum-chewing teenager, then the modern woman who followed all the glossy magazines’ advice and—now—the cutesy-chic, fun-loving young lady. With each evolution, she improved upon herself as she tried to figure out who she was in this GoneGod world.
In other words, she was doing her best at being mortal. Aren’t we all?
She pretended to yawn, more committed this time, and threw up her arms. I countered with a yawn of my own, also throwing up my hand and blocking the descent of her arm with a counter move I call Kara-Date-O. If she noticed, she didn’t show it.
I felt terrible. Medusa was a perfectly delightful gorgon, and here I was treating this date like an episode of Prison Break.
Medusa nodded and asked, “Is something wrong?”
I stared off into the distance and touched the twisty-tie that was wrapped around a silver necklace I wore. The tie was what I’d used to propose to Bella all those years ago, wrapping it around her finger and promising that one day I’d buy her a real ring—when I could afford one. The little piece of industrial plastic was the last sentimental thing I owned that had belonged to her. Bella—she was, is and always will be the best part of me.
I knew I should move on. Hell, Bella’s last words to me were, “Live well.” And I might have been able to, had I not discovered that Bella still existed, stuck all alone in the once-upon-a-time Heaven. The angel Penemue—my best friend and the only one who knew that Heaven was not, in fact, completely empty—was looking for a way back to her. Sure, the odds of finding a way into Heaven were one in a billion, but it was still possible and I couldn’t fully give my heart to another knowing that.
And that wasn’t fair to Medusa. She was a sweet girl who wanted what every love song and romantic movie promised: a partner to share your one life with. I prayed she’d find it—it just wouldn’t be with me.
At least, that’s how I saw it.
“I’m thinking about tonight,” I lied.
She nodded. “You know,” she said, her voice lingering, “I was at his last gala. We sunk Atlantis.”
“Excuse me?” I said, wondering if this was some Other expression like, “We raised the roof” or “We brought the house down.”
“Don’t worry—The BisMark is a serious guy. I’m sure tonight will go smoothly. He’s organized tons of events for the gods, and nothing went wrong. Better than that—they were boring events. Lots of speeches, proclamations—official stuff, really. Atlantis was a special case. Promise.” Medusa’s lips pursed in a way that showed she wasn’t really promising anything.
“Sure … I feel reassured,” I lied. “Now back up to the part where you sunk Atlantis?”
“It was a wedding, you know. That’s why we were gathered in Atlantis—to celebrate the union between Poseidon and …” She playfully patted my forearm. “Look at me talking about ancient history. I must be boring you.”
“Are you kidding?” I said, turning to face her. “What happened?”
“We had a party. Things got out of control. Atlantis was sunk.”
“That’s it?” I said. “A city disappears and you sum it up in three sentences. You got to give me more than that.”
“OK, Jean-Luc, I tell you what—you can ask me three questions.”
Medusa lifted a finger. “In exchange for you granting me a request.”
I pulled away, hoping that her request didn’t involve a bottle of wine and satin sheets.
She must have seen my doubt, because she quickly added, “A PG-13 request.”
“Cross my heart.” She crossed her heart, her finger accidentally—tantalizingly—tugging one of her straps. “Whoops,” she said, pulling her strap back up.
I gulped. “Fine, done.”
“Great,” she beamed. “What do you want to know?”
“OK—Poseidon sunk Atlantis, you already told me that. Why?”
“Loki,” she said. “The damn trickster said something he shouldn’t have.”
“And … nothing. Back then tricksters were always messing with gods, Others and mortals alike. Loki said something he shouldn’t have, Poseidon got angry, threw his typical temper tantrum and sunk Atlantis.”
“Argh,” I said. She was being coy. I gave her a look that said, “You’re holding back on me.”
She smirked. “Poseidon was the groom. He was very drunk, and Loki—well, Loki always knew how to push his buttons.”
“He was the groom? Who was his bride?” I asked.
Medusa’s smile temporarily disappeared before her eyes flickered with a realization. “Ah, ah, ah …” she said, wagging her finger. “And to answer your third question—yes, he was the groom.”
“No—wait a minute—I only asked two questions.”
Medusa held up three fingers. “I believe your first question was, ‘Why did Poseidon sink Atlantis?’ I answered Loki.” She lowered a finger. “Then you asked, ‘And?,’ to which I added pertinent details about Poseidon’s character. As for your last question—you wasted it by asking if Poseidon was the groom, even though I clearly had told you he was already.”
“You’re devious,” I said, crossing my arms over my chest and pretending to pout.
“I am not,” Medusa said, playfully punching my arm with such force that it knocked me over. Man, even playing, man-oh-man she could punch! I’d hate to be in a real fight with her.
“Ow,” I laughed, grabbing my arm.
She giggled in embarrassment and leaned over to offer me a hand. When she did, her purse fell, its contents spilling on the beach. Keys, lip gloss, lip moisturizer, skin moisturizer, nail polish, leather relaxant—presumably for the snakes—a Hello Kitty wallet, phone and …
“What’s this?” I asked as I picked up a small, wooden winged horse.
Before I could say or do anything, Marty’s scaly jaws snatched the trinket out of my hand and put it in Medusa’s purse.
“It’s nothing,” Medusa said, snapping her purse shut. She looked across at the sun that was beginning its slow descent beneath the horizon. “It’s getting late, we should go,” she said, her grin returning. “But first … my request.”
I groaned and eyed her suspiciously. “Fine, but I reserve the right to do something equally evil to you.”
“Deal,” she said and stuck out her hand.
I took it. “Very well, then—spill it. What do you want?”
“Invite me to the gala. I know you can have a plus-one, and I’d like to go.”
“Oh,” I chuckled. “So that’s it. All of this was so you could get an invite to the gala?” I might have been offended had I not been the cool guy with connections. I was so rarely the cool guy.
“Did it work?” She batted her eyelids at me.
I thought about how the gala would be another date. Our third date, to be specific. Given the kind of advice she was reading, third dates were the no-holds-barred dates. Medusa and her thirty snakes knew a lot of holds and … Stop it! I growled to myself.
I didn’t want to lead her on any more than I already had. Saying no now would go a long way to ending the crush. OK, Jean-Luc, let her down easy. Tell her that you can’t bring anyone. Be kind, but firm. Medusa touched my arm, felt the fabric of my coat that hung on my forearm between her thumb and forefinger. Whatever happens next, Jean-Luc, don’t invite her. Medusa looked at me expectantly, her eyes as well as the eyes of all thirty of her snakes staring at me. It wouldn’t be fair, Jean-Luc, she doesn’t know human customs. She’ll take this date seriously. Marty got in close, scowling at me as I hesitated.
“Well,” I started. Better now than later, I thought. “It’s pretty full, and …”
“Yes?” Medusa held her breath, her eyes locked on mine. Hell, thirty pairs of snake eyes were locked on me.
I should tell her that now is not a good time. No, what I should really tell her is that there will never be a good time and that we should just be friends. I should point out that going arm-in-arm to the gala would send the wrong message to everyone, including us. Then a polite kiss on the cheek—that should send the right message that I wasn’t interested. You know, let the gorgon down easy with a clear signal that has been documented over and over again by every teenage glossy magazine in existence. Medusa would get the hint, of that much I was sure.
But instead of following my well thought out plan, I ran my hands through my hair and stammered, “Sure … I can get you in.” Crap!
“Yes!” Medusa said with far too much enthusiasm given that I was right in front of her. All thirty of her snakes simultaneously hissed.
“Of course, I’ll be working, but—”
“Don’t worry, Jean-Luc. I’m not a demanding date,” she said, giving me a hug. And with that, I had a date. Again.
Oh well, I thought. Maybe I can let her down easy at our wedding.